This information applies to adults and children over one year old. If you want advice for babies under one year old, see What should I do if a baby is choking?
Choking happens when someone’s airway suddenly gets blocked so they cannot breathe. Their airway can be partly or fully blocked. In adults, choking is usually caused by food getting stuck. In children and babies, it can be caused if they put small objects in their mouths that then get stuck.
Assessing the situationThe best way to help depends on how serious the situation is and whether the person choking is:
- an adult,
- a child over one year old, or
- a baby under one year old.
Mild choking in adults and children over one year oldIf the airway is only partly blocked, the person will usually be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. In situations like this, an adult or child over one year old will usually be able to clear the blockage themselves.
To help with mild choking in an adult or child over one year old:
- Encourage the person to keep coughing to try and clear the blockage.
- Remove any obvious blockage from their mouth, using your first two fingers and thumb to grasp the object.
Severe choking in adults and children over one year oldWhere choking is severe, the person will not be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. Without help, they will eventually become unconscious.
To help an adult or child over one year old who is choking severely:
- Stand slightly behind the person to one side. If you’re right-handed, stand to the left. If you’re left-handed, stand to the right.
- Support their chest with one hand. Lean the person forward so that the object blocking their airway will come out of their mouth, rather than going further down.
- Give up to five sharp blows between the person’s shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. (The heel is between the palm of your hand and your wrist.)
- Stop after each blow to check if the blockage has cleared.
- If not, give up to five abdominal thrusts (see below).
- Stop after each thrust to check if the blockage has cleared.
- If someone else is with you, send them to dial 999 (or 112) for an ambulance immediately.
- If you are alone, dial 999 (or 112) for an ambulance immediately, then return to help the person.
- Continue with the cycles of back blows and abdominal thrusts until help arrives.
Important: procedures such as CPR can cause injury. You should not attempt CPR unless you have been trained. See Further information below to find out about learning first aid skills.
Abdominal thrusts: adults and children over one year old onlyAbdominal thrusts are an emergency technique for clearing a blockage from the airway of an adult or child over one year old who is choking. They are also known as the Heimlich manoeuvre.
Important: Do not use abdominal thrusts with babies under one year old, pregnant women or people who are obese.
- Stand behind the person who is choking.
- Place your arms around their waist and bend them well forward.
- Clench your fist and place it right above the person's navel (belly button).
- Place your other hand on top, then thrust both hands backwards into their stomach with a hard, upward movement.
- Repeat this until the object stuck in their throat comes out of their mouth.